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PIT@ATL: Bedard mows down nine Braves in five frames

ATLANTA -- The pressure was on Erik Bedard. After having been called the best 0-4 pitcher in baseball, after enough tales of deprivation to make him sound like a Charles Dickens character, the left-hander had a lead on Saturday night, and it actually grew.

But nobody came up bigger at Turner Field than Bedard. Especially in the fifth inning, when he was offered a detour around the meat of the Braves' lineup and instead chose to ram through it.

Largely due to that assertive response to trouble, the Bucs outlasted Atlanta, 4-2.

Clutch two-out hitting, off-the-drawing-board bullpen relays, some overdue good fortune -- and Jose Tabata's game-ending circus catch against the right-center wall -- also had a lot to do with the victory in front of 34,086 disappointed Braves fans.

But no one left a bigger stamp on this game than the left-hander who is as hard to read as he is to hit. It can never be as simple as Bedard always makes it sound. Even after his most arduous outing of the season, he just said all he was trying to do was "make strikes and get outs."

"A very blue-collar effort from Erik Bedard. It's probably the most he has had to grind in his five starts," manager Clint Hurdle said. "We got to see a guy reach down to get through five. There were no quick, easy outs for Erik."

The hardest moment of a hard night came with two outs in that fifth inning, runners on second and third. That meant that, in a 4-1 game, cleanup hitter Dan Uggla came up as the potential tying run. A well-attended summit was held on the mound, the idea of pitching around Uggla coming up for discussion.

"We talked about it, but I said, 'I don't like that. This guy's hot, but there are places you can get every good hitter,'" Hurdle said.

Bedard went to that place, striking out Uggla on some nasty breaking pitches.

"I'm stubborn," Bedard said of the option he'd been given to dodge Uggla.

That was Bedard's ninth strikeout and last pitch of the game. In five innings, he allowed five hits and a run, with two walks and the most strikeouts by a Pittsburgh southpaw since Paul Maholm rang up 10 Phillies on Aug. 8, 2008.

"And he needed every one of them," Hurdle said. "He did a nice job. But his tank was empty at that time."

From there, the Pirates' bullpen precariously crossed the four-inning bridge to victory. Chris Resop, Juan Cruz, Jason Grilli and Joel Hanrahan followed Bedard to the mound, and ultimately Hanrahan had his fourth save.

Grilli struck out the side in the eighth, and Hanrahan added two more whiffs in the ninth -- before pinch-hitter Eric Hinske crushed the drive that sent Tabata into the highlight reel. The total of 14 strikeouts matched the team's most in a nine-inning game since June 26, 2004, when the staff totaled 15 in Cincinnati.

The Bucs had gone into their first meeting with Atlanta right-hander Randall Delgado armed with the typical scouting report, and with Hurdle's own observations.

"He's got a big arm. You've got to make him throw strikes, show a little patience," the Pittsburgh manager had said. "The kid's gritty. I watched the tape, and he seems to be a tough kid. Puts his head down, goes hard, gets through it."

The Pirates were patient enough to make Delgado throw 22 pitches in the first inning. He minimized the damage by eventually escaping a two-on jam, but only after Garrett Jones' sacrifice fly had scored Alex Presley, who had begun the game with a single, for a 1-0 lead.

Despite Bedard's well-documented lack of offensive support, it was not the first lead he had been given this season. He had 1-0 leads on April 11 against the Dodgers and on April 16 against Arizona, but immediately gave both back.

Two major differences this time: Bedard did not give it back, then the Bucs padded that slim lead.

Run-scoring hits with two outs in the second by Presley -- who now has a 12-game hitting streak -- and Tabata made it 3-0.

Atlanta trimmed that lead on Uggla'a RBI single in the third, but the Bucs built it back up in the fifth, chasing Delgado on back-to-back one-out doubles by Neil Walker and Pedro Alvarez.

Walker's double was his first extra-base hit of the season. Alvarez's double was his first since the third inning; the third baseman, whose average continued to climb toward .200 (.176), has five extra-base hits in his last four games.

"Doubles seem to feed your entire offense. We need those extra-base hits," Hurdle said.

The Braves took advantage of Bedard's departure as Jason Heyward led off the sixth with a double against Resop and eventually scored on Juan Francisco's infield grounder to make it 4-2.

More danger lurked for the next man out of the bullpen, Cruz, in the next inning. But instead of the game turning, Cruz turned out the lights on the Braves.

Michael Bourn began the inning with a single, and the speedster took off for second on the full-count pitch to Martin Prado -- who smoked a grounder up the middle, but right at Walker, who had run over to cover the bag. Step on second, throw to first -- double play, the discouraging sort the Pirates had been running into.

"We've seen that play before, from the other dugout," Hurdle said, nodding. "Who wouldn't run Michael Bourn on a 3-and-2 count? That was huge -- absolutely. We were in a little precarious position there."

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